- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Recent editorials from Kentucky newspapers:

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Nov. 1

The Daily Independent on judicial redistricting:

John Minton, chief justice of the Kentucky Supreme Court, makes a strong case that it is way past time for the state to redraw Kentucky’s district and circuit judicial boundaries to make each judicial district more in compliance with population changes.

The state’s judicial districts were established by voter approval of a state constitutional amendment in 1976. Many legislators agree judicial redistricting is way overdue and some key lawmakers, like Sen. John Schickel, R-Union, have been demanding judicial redistricting for the state’s district and circuit court districts.

Drawing new boundaries for Kentucky’s congressional and state legislative districts must occur once every decade under the U.S. Supreme Court’s “one man; one vote” ruling declaring districts in the U.S. House of Representatives and state legislatures must vary little in population. No job in state legislatures is more political than legislative redistricting.

The Supreme Court’s “one man, one vote” does not apply to judicial districts left virtually untouched and unchallenged for 40 years. That’s because legislators know redistricting is so controversial, they choose to ignore the issue whenever possible.

Minton admits judicial redistricting would be difficult to achieve because there are a lot of moving parts, and when some of them are altered, it’s likely lawmakers will hear their phones ring from interested parties not happy with the changes, the chief justice said.

There is a wide variation in work load and cases across circuits and across the state, often with little relation to the population of an individual circuit, Minton said. In some circuits, there’s too much work for each judge; in others, too many judges for the work.

Schickel has been in the vanguard of those seeking an adjustment of the circuits and workloads and he commended Minton’s work so far.

Minton has yet to present a specific plan, but he explained what it’s likely to look like when complete.

Working with the National Center for State Courts and a work assessment group composed of judges from across the state, a couple of prosecutors and two lawmakers, Minton oversaw an exhaustive survey of caseloads and calculations “down to minutes” of how long it took judges to clear them.

The 18-month, data-driven study produced some surprises: a judge serving Lincoln, Pulaski and Rockcastle counties labored under the workload for 2.18 judges while others in other circuits worked caseloads of less than one.

Minton said the working group has yet to settle on a final plan but is leaning toward one which would calculate the appropriate number of judges in each circuit based on an “implied judicial need” of 1.4 judges to handle the caseload.

Population would not be the determining factor. Only when caseloads exceed the level which 1.4 judges could clear would there be justification for an additional judgeship in the circuit.

Minton said the plan would reduce judicial circuits from 57 to 55 - but not the number of judges. As judgeships are transferred to busier circuits, some would also be “reallocated” to family court positions of which there are too few. No new judgeships will be created.

The plan would reduce the unmet need for family courts to only eight jurisdictions, Minton said.

But some judgeships would be reallocated to other circuits with heavier dockets - some jurisdictions would end up with more sitting judges than judgeships.

There’s also a timing issue. Not until 2020 will all the state’s judges be on the ballot at the same time and the constitution doesn’t allow the elimination of an elected office during the term to which the office holder was elected. So that’s the soonest the changes can be fully implemented.

While judicial redistricting is needed in Kentucky, there is no great public outcry for it. Most individual Kentuckians have little contact with the state’s courts, and as a result, they have no strong opinions about what goes on in the courts of Kentucky. Until that changes, getting residents fired up about redrawing judicial boundaries is extremely unlikely. Changing judicial boundaries won’t happen from the top. It must begin as a grassroots level.

Online:

https://www.dailyindependent.com/

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Oct. 30

The Bowling Green Daily News on local democracy:

The Debate in the District at La Gala in Bowling Green was a great event for the community.

The forum allowed the two candidates in the 20th District state representative race and Bowling Green’s mayoral and the city commission candidates to voice their opinions and ideas about issues in our state and city.

The event was well attended, with roughly 300 people inside the former Quick-Lincoln Mercury building in downtown Bowling Green. It was also good to see a lot of young people at the event. This shows that they care about this community, want to be informed and want to be a part of voting for the candidate of their choice.

The event gave those in attendance the opportunity to see the candidates up close, listen to their ideas and hopefully, in the end, gave them a better understanding of who they want to vote for Nov. 8.

Every candidate who attended deserves to be applauded for participating. Every candidate who spoke was very professional and conducted themselves very well during the event.

Many issues were discussed at the debate. Some may agree with them and some might not, but at least people got to hear where each candidate stands on the issues.

We don’t agree with all of the positions the candidates took during the debate, but their views and opinions should be respected by all.

One thing is certain about what happened last week at La Gala, and that is it showed how democracy works. In politics, people won’t agree all of the time. A lot of these candidates differ on many issues, but at the end of the day they got into this race to offer ideas and thoughts on how to make Bowling Green a better place.

When this election is over, hopefully each candidate will shake hands with one another and wish each other well.

It takes a lot for a person to decide to run for public office. In some cases, candidates are criticized, sometimes unfairly and sometimes fairly, for stances that they take. Sometimes candidates not only open themselves up to public scrutiny, they also open their families up to potential indirect criticism.

So to all of the candidates, we want to take the time to applaud you for putting your hats in the ring and being a part of the electoral process. Not all of the candidates will win the office they are seeking, but at the end of the day they deserve credit for putting themselves out there. It’s simply unacceptable.

Online:

https://www.bgdailynews.com/

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Oct. 28

The Lexington Herald-Leader on politicians speaking of the coal industry:

Give Gov. Matt Bevin’s environmental secretary credit. When asked about the prospects for Eastern Kentucky’s coal industry, he was honest - unlike all the misleading political ads and mailings that are bombarding Kentuckians.

What Secretary Charles Snavely said was important, but how he prefaced it is even more enlightening in this election season.

When asked by a lawmaker at a meeting in February if there is hope for a coal-industry rebound in Central Appalachia, Snavely said, “I regret you ask me that question in a public forum because if you ask me a question, I’m going to give you the answer.”

OK. He seems to be saying Kentuckians can’t handle the truth. But why? What myth is it so important to perpetuate?

Snavely, a mining engineer and former coal-company executive, went on to say that he sees no rebound for Eastern Kentucky’s coal jobs anytime soon.

He based his prediction on world economic conditions, cheap natural gas and an uncertain regulatory environment that discourages electrical utilities from building new coal-fired capacity.

Plus, thermal (the kind for power production) coal from Eastern Kentucky has a unique market disadvantage. Because the remaining seams are thin, it costs more to mine, which means it can’t compete on price with coal from other regions, including the Illinois Basin, Wyoming, Montana and even Northern Appalachia - all of which produce cheaper coal than Eastern Kentucky.

That honest opinion from a Republican governor’s appointee echoes what a utility executive told the Kentucky Governor’s Conference on Energy and Environment in Lexington last month.

Natural gas is expected to overtake coal this year as the country’s No. 1 source of power and could continue to underprice coal for the next 20 to 50 years. Kentucky Power chief Greg Pauley said that because natural gas and wind energy are “the price winners,” demand for coal isn’t coming back “no matter who is elected in November.”

Yet, Republicans from Donald Trump right down the ballot to Kentucky legislative candidates are holding out false promises that the outcome of this election can bring back coal jobs. They’re even accusing pro-coal Democrats like House Speaker Greg Stumbo, who never saw a strip mine he didn’t like, of waging “war on coal.”

And they revile the few Democrats - presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and congressional challenger Nancy Jo Kemper - who are telling the truth and offering concrete ideas for creating new jobs and opportunities.

Kentuckians have every right to be disillusioned with a long line of politicians, from both parties, who have bowed before a single powerful industry that would tolerate no new industries or businesses that might compete for workers to fill its dangerous jobs.

Coal-mine employment in Kentucky peaked around 1950 and - except for a spurt in the 1970s - has been steadily declining ever since. Everyone knew this day would come. Future generations will marvel that those in power did so little to prepare for it and waited so long to begin building a diverse economy in the mountains.

Kentuckians can handle the truth, if only more politicians respected them enough to speak it. Voters who fall for promises, implied or express, to bring back coal jobs will be pinning their votes and their hopes to an illusion.

Online:

https://www.kentucky.com/

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